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Talking Combat 069: The Vast And The Curious

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 069: Stairway to Seven.

This week’s Talking Combat may be a little ragged because my brain is not cooperating. It might be that the polar vortex has slowed down the electrical impulses in my brain; it might be that I’m overloaded from my son dumping Kingdom Hearts lore on me all week. Most of it sailed over my head, but I managed to pick up that there’s there’s like 11 different games that cover different platforms and genres, the bad guy’s usually a guy named Xehanort, but he’s different every game, and that Donald Duck never heals you when he’s supposed to. Clearly, I need to churn out a Prima Guide.

With all of this going on, I suppose a transition episode is a welcome respite.  And hey, I got to Google the word “interstitial”! If you were wondering: it’s related to small spaces such as a) the fluid-filled parts of the human body between the organs, or b) the spaces between grains of sand in sediment. The judges will allow Steve’s proper usage of the word. Cue the NBC “The More You Know” logo.

The unspoken subtext of this week’s episode is “Jason Talks About Doing A Lot Of Things And Then Forgets To Actually Do Them”. Some of this is schedule – i.e. this is when people started disappearing for the holidays and the time between sessions increased – but some of this is that I was just indecisive and ended up not doing anything. Paralysis by analysis.

For all the talk about shopping, I go through about three different versions of my shopping list while we’re talking, but then ended up hoarding most of my loot and not getting any of the things I discussed. I think I grabbed a few healing serums and a grenade or two but mostly held onto my credits. Despite Steve telling us we wouldn’t be back. Truth told, Tuttle has fairly modest needs, but I hope that doesn’t prove to be a mistake.

I’m pretty sure it won’t be. Not a fatal mistake anyway. It’s not that I don’t trust Steve saying we wouldn’t be back to Absalom. I’m sure it’s 100% true that that’s where the story goes. But I do feel like there will be other ways to acquire gear. OK, uncharted planets aren’t going to have a store that takes Pact World credits. We won’t have the limitless options of saying “I want that” and you get it. Granted. But weapon and armor drops will always continue to be a thing – the limited upside of two groups having a head-start on us is it’s two groups worth of resupply waiting for us when we get there. If we’re talking about investigating an ancient civilization, I feel like maybe at worst, the drops are going to get further away from tech and move toward magic, and then you’re bumping up against the two-item limit, but I think stuff will be there.

The other thing I forgot about was whether to purchase the personal computer (different from the ship computer). I wasn’t so worried about additional pluses – when you add all my skill levels and class bonuses and the data jack upgrade, I’m getting near +20 on computers. From a dice-roll perspective… I’ve got this. I was more thinking from a “minimum threshold” perspective. There have been certain data modules that had a hard requirement of a certain-level computer to even ATTEMPT to decode. Now you can metagame and assume the adventure will provide a way, or one can actually roleplay and assume we’d want to have resources to deal with that. Also, in a joking-but-not-really sense, Tuttle would probably geek out at having a really nice laptop. So you hear me mumble something about going back and looking at the rules in more detail, but… yeah, never actually did that. No Alienware for Tuttle.

Or maybe I just abandoned the plan when I couldn’t get the rest of the party to split the costs.

On the other hand, I do have a bright shiny new AI for CHDRR, which I’m pretty excited about. It’s not QUITE as good as my original read – I don’t really get a full turn for both characters; it just adds a full attack to the options I can choose when I’m still taking my full turn. So the “1.5 Moves” dance continues, but having CHDRR slug it out with full attacks is now an option, where it wasn’t before. Still an improvement; just not the one I thought it was when we were recording. I am still correct that Level 20 is when CHDRR becomes (basically) an autonomous party member.

That’s the passive benefit of leveling up (as well as the “Tip Of The Tongue” Scholar ability which allows me to re-roll a knowledge check once per day). The only real active benefit beyond hit points and skills increases is that CHDRR has Enhanced Senses (darkvision, +2 to Perception checks). We’re getting out toward the no-man’s land where the low-level enhancements are underwhelming but the next enhancement tier doesn’t open up until 11th level. I thought about maybe another (or different) weapon mount or an upgrade slot for CHDRR’s armor (haste circuit!), but push comes to shove, having another party member who can see (and fight) in the dark felt like the most immediately useful thing I could buy. (And if I were to take the Camera at some future point, the Enhanced Senses would work with the camera as well.)

I have to admit, compared to Hirogi never missing on his trick attack or John getting all sorts of defense upgrades, I felt like “the robot can see in the dark” is a little underwhelming. But that’s the life of a skills monkey I guess.

Two other small observations:

  1. How did I not make a “mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell!” joke when Mo mentioned taking a point in Life Science? Either I did and Steve cut it, or I’m slipping…
  2. Wondering if we should also “level up” the Sunrise Maiden. Technically, unless you want to completely overhaul the frame, the ship levels up like a character does as long as you’re in space-dock. It’s only 5 or 10 extra points, but every little bit helps, especially if it’s our last chance to do so for a while.

With that, back to the frozen (and “Frozen”) misery of real life. See you next week when we head off for deep space. Until then, stay warm, everyone.

Dead Suns 069: Stairway to Seven

As the RFC crew prepare for a near-certain suicide mission, they must make some tough decisions as they level up to 7th level and shop for perhaps the very last time in civilized space.

Also this week, Stephen discusses if you should give PCs slight spoilers to upcoming events in order to enhance their enjoyment.

And don’t forget to become a supporter of the podcast our Patreon page: where you can help us while unlocking fun exclusive rewards for yourself!

If you enjoyed this episode, don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast. We would also love it if you would leave us a review on iTunes!

Talking Combat 068: Back to Life, Back to Reality

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 068: Life After Undeath.

Yay! We survived!

When the vampire re-coalesced, I honestly thought we were in big trouble – I know, that’s the point of a cliffhanger, right? Like some of you, I envisioned a scenario where she still had half her hit points left and vaporizing was a tactical decision to trick us.

Luckily… no. Just a last-ditch effort to save herself by getting the drop on us. And OK, taking out Mo and Rusty in the kinda-sorta surprise round was a good start for her. She almost made it work. Fortunately, Hirogi took care of business, and we live to fight another day.

I have to admit something here that surprised me a little. I’ve made no secret of my distrust of the undead over the year-plus since we started this thing. Carry-over from Pathfinder; nothing to be done about it. And yet… I have to admit I actually felt a leeeettle twinge of guilt when we started shoveling her dust into the acid pit. It was a kind of a gruesome way to go… even for an undead. I mean, it was the right play from a gaming standpoint – the acid seemed like the sensible way to keep her from regenerating over and over, so… had to do it. But yes, I actually felt a little bad about it, which I would not have expected. WE’VE ALL LEARNED A VALUABLE LESSON AND GROWN AS PEOPLE.

We then pause for a brief interlude for loot, but there’s nothing particularly exciting for Tuttle. That’s OK… I’ve actually been getting comfortable with Tuttle as a low-loot kind of guy. Besides, I’ve still got CHDRR and we do have a lot of credits to go shopping with. (We never did resolve the whole necrograft question — wonder if we should stop back there on the way out of town?)

The better news in terms of the overall campaign is that we get our next breadcrumb, in the form of the next star-system we have to visit. A place called Nejeor, which caused me to stifle a few jokes about Cardiassians and the wormhole. Then again, if Steve’s going to throw DS9 references in there with his “Dr. Bashir”, I feel like that’s fair game. And we also get to advance to Level 7, which I presume we’ll cover in next week’s episode.

Now Steve claims we’re moving a little bit faster. I did a little digging, and it’s true. Not a LOT, but faster. Book 1 was about 23 episodes, as was Book 2. That would make this one 20 or 21, depending on whether you count the ship-building episode as part of Book 3 or some sort of separate entity like the Star Wars Christmas Special. I’ll be candid and admit it doesn’t feel shorter, but some of that is probably because we took the holiday off. Pass-fail, we’ll take credit for it.

Now let’s talk about Steve’s GM tip. This is one of those ones where my head and my heart diverge.

My logical brain accepts that letting the bad guys live is a very useful storytelling device, gives you more opportunities to role-play… all that good stuff. Those NPCs are opportunities to flesh out your world, and it breaks up the action so it doesn’t get repetitive. I do want these games to be more than mindlessly slashing through wave after wave of enemies, like it was a Theater In The Round interpretation of Diablo.

But at the end of the day my heart is a combat gamer’s heart (with a possible dash of Klingon mixed in) – I tend to want the closure of killing bad guys. An unkilled enemy feels like a task left undone, even if you get useful information or a good roleplay moment out of it. So I get what Steve’s point is here, but I do have a little natural blood-lust that rises up. I will say though, that playing Tuttle acts as somewhat of a check on it because… well… he’s just not that strong a fighter.

Apropos of nothing else, I would take a moment to second Steve’s appreciation of the No One Lives Forever series. It was a stealth game that had the same sort of “James Bond send-up” 60s spy retro vibe that the first Austin Powers movie had, but with the added advantage of 100 percent less Mike Myers. (Though the protagonist, Cate Archer, could’ve easily been played by Elizabeth Hurley.) Steve’s mention even inspired me to go on a bit of a research trip and check Steam and GOG, and… nope, can’t get it anymore. Doing a little reading: there are three different companies that might own the rights; none of them actually know if they’re the company that DOES own the rights; but they’ll all line up to sue anyone who does try to remake the game whose rights they may or may not own. Untangle THAT puzzle, if you will. All of this is prelude to “it’s a good game; if you ever see a copy on eBay, might be worth grabbing.”

Sorry, I realize we’ve officially got a little far afield if we’re talking about 20-year-old out-of-print video games, but… you live by the dated pop-culture reference, you die by the dated pop-culture reference. Next week, we’ll level ourselves up, maybe do some shopping, and begin the next leg of the adventure as we try to catch up to both the cultists and the Corpse Fleet. Hopefully you’ll be back to join us; in the meantime, feel free to drop by Discord and join the reindeer games.

Me, I’m off to engage in some Grade-A schadenfreude by watching the documentary about the Fyre Festival. Suckers!

Dead Suns 068: Life After Undeath

Last we left our heroes, half of the RFC crew dropped and the “big bad boss” just rose from the dead. Will they live? Will they die? Will they throw a party? Find out in the stunning conclusion in this week’s episode!

Also this week, Stephen discusses why you should allow your bad guys surrender to the PCs and the opportunities it generates.

And don’t forget to become a supporter of the podcast our Patreon page: where you can help us while unlocking fun exclusive rewards for yourself!

If you enjoyed this episode, don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast. We would also love it if you would leave us a review on iTunes!

Talking Combat 067: You and What Army?

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 067: Bone Field Advantage.

It’s Boss Battle Time. Or at least I think it is. I thought the marrowblight was supposed to be the boss battle, and look how that turned out.

When I said we were going to get ambushed on the way back… I was kind of kidding, kind of not. Steve did mention that some of the clues at the Skin Shack looked like they had been staged, which made ambush at least cross my mind (I mean… that is why I said it) but that could also be the bad guy framing someone else or sending us on a wild goose chase while they do something else. Grading pass-fail, I was thinking it more likely we could salvage the broken datapad when we got back to town, and that would take us to the next stop in the grand tour. Or that Trux herself was a double agent in league with the Corpse Corps and she was sending us on errands to get us out of the way.

Instead: Chinese vampire and skeleton buddies who come popping out of the bone piles at the side of the road.

I am not sure why Bob was so insistent about the idea that we should be allowed to run away. I mean, I get it… in the real world, you’re walking to a place that’s 5-10 miles away, you could take a multitude of paths, so there’s a level at which a choke-point encounter is a little contrived. On the other hand, if you’re tourists in someplace new, you’re likely to take the shortest, most direct path, and we didn’t really say “we should take a different route back in case we’re being tailed”. So walking through the bone canyon because we’re tourists and don’t know any other way back isn’t THAT much of a stretch.

Also: meta-game for a second – it’s the boss fight. This is kinda what we do.

So the battle starts and perhaps befittingly, I’m on rear guard cleaning up the trash. The other guys were saying “everyone get up to the boss” but realistically, a) I don’t think I’d be any more effective against the boss up close than I would be at range, and b) I was a little worried that if we didn’t try to slow the skellies down some, we’d get trapped on the stairs, and that seemed like a recipe for disaster. Also, as the battle unfolded, it turned out my sonic weapon was one of the most effective tools for fighting them.

Having said that, you’ll note that I did move toward the stairs with the rest of the team. First, there was a bit of an outcropping in the canyon walls that provided cover from some lines of fire, so moving to the stairs meant only 2 guys had clear shots for the first few rounds. But also, the only thing worse than getting caught on the stairs between two fights would be a “worst of both worlds” where everyone else was caught on the stairs and I’d be fighting 3 or 4 skeletons on the lower approach all by myself. So I kinda-sorta cooperated with the “orders” even though I was still lone-wolfing it in spirit.

Well, I guess I had Bob helping me with trash detail. I know this because I keep stepping into his shooting lanes and getting my wrist slapped. I think it’s mostly an “old habits die hard” thing from Pathfinder where there aren’t a lot of committed bow users, so you have melee or casters who can put their spells anywhere. Starfinder is a little more oriented toward ranged combat. You’d think I’d pick up on that after a year playing, right?

I am kicking myself a little because this might have been the perfect opportunity to use my teleportation puck, and I didn’t think of it. I don’t know how many of you have played this and/or seen the encounter map, but the canyon path is blocked by a muck-pit (acid, I assume) with a small uneven “stair” on the left side. Too far to jump, since there’s an “over” and an “up” component. Your choices to get up to the vampire’s ledge are actual flight if you have that tech, or climb stairs that are difficult terrain while under fire, potentially from both sides of the obstacle. If I were thinking, I could’ve just chucked the puck up onto the ledge and had Mo beam himself up there so he could get up in the boss’ face faster.

Sigh. What might have been…

On the other hand, the person who throws the puck is the operator, so I would’ve had to find a way to give Mo the puck or get myself within touch range, both of which would’ve taken a few extra rounds during which Mo could’ve just been running up the stairs. So maybe it wasn’t THAT much of a missed opportunity.

So the fight proceeds, and we eventually prevail. OR DO WE? (Cue dramatic music). I did not expect the vampire to pop back to life, but I suppose I should’ve gone with the old “if you don’t see a body” rule (see also: every time the Joker “dies” in a Batman comic). And of course it takes out half our party in its Surprise Round 2.0, so Hirogi and I have our work cut out for us when we come back next week. Since Winnie-the-Pooh references became a part of our zeitgeist after last week… “oh bother”.

As far as Steve’s GM tip, I think my attitude toward “giving out story” has changed as I’ve gotten older. Younger Me appreciated the unfolding of a mystery and having to figure things out for myself. Some of the games I played when I was younger, exploring the world was part of the allure. I really didn’t mind just bumbling around until we figured things out. You’re staying up later than you should goofing off with friends… what’s the rush?

Older Me? I’ve got a job, kids, I only get three hours a week to play… I hate to sound like some suit-wearing management consultant, but I want to be efficient and goal-oriented when I play. I want things to move along. Yet, at the same time, I still want to feel like I/we earn the plot points we get – having a zeppelin fly over with a banner saying PUT THE GEM IN THE STATUE’S EYE SOCKET is a little too contrived. I think the real goal should be avoiding a single point of failure. Even if it’s a published adventure and you have to write it in yourself, come up with a Plan B or even Plan C for getting the players where they need to go, but still try to let them find it unless it’s been 2 or 3 hours and you’re starting to lose the table to frustration.

At the end of the day, the completed story is the thing people remember about a campaign months after you finished playing. If you have to fudge a scene in Act Two to make it happen, fudge away.

Well, that’s it for me. Next week we find out if Tuttle and Hirogi have enough tricks up their sleeve to finish off the vampire, or whether the Starfinder Society is gonna need some more FBI guys. Hopefully, you’ll tune back in next week, and in the meantime, feel free to pop on over to Discord and join the conversation over there. Thanks for listening (and reading)!

Dead Suns 067: Bone Field Advantage

With the RFC crew out of leads, they decide to head back to town … walking back through the radioactive boneyards of Eox couldn’t possibly result in any horrible encounters. What could go wrong?

Also this week, Stephen discusses how to integrate history and backstory into your games.

And don’t forget to become a supporter of the podcast our Patreon page: where you can help us while unlocking fun exclusive rewards for yourself!

If you enjoyed this episode, don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast. We would also love it if you would leave us a review on iTunes!

Talking Combat 066: Better Bones And Gardens

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 066: Hey Dupinski!.

OK, so where did we leave off?

Right. You take your flour, and you add a little bit of cumin, paprika, and a little garlic. And then you want to take your chicken and roll it around in that mix… make sure the whole thing gets coated, okay?

I’m sorry, what?

Oh. Wrong blog. RIIIIIGHT… the talking rat, weird robot thing. Keep rolling… we’ll go again and fix it in post.

So, we’re back from vacation at Roll For Combat after a couple weeks of rest and relaxation over the holidays. Obviously, I didn’t get a chance to do any writing, for which I mostly blame Gamestop’s 2-for-1 used game sale. (And, to be sincere for a second, the fact that my daughter caught a last-minute flight home for the holiday break.) So… I rested. I relaxed.

Returning to where we were in the game, we beat our way past the 40-foot-tall guard dog, and now we have to attack the house itself. At first, I figured the occupant(s) have to know we’re coming, don’t they? But then again, if there’s no atmosphere, there’s no sound, so if they didn’t look out a window… maybe we still have some element of surprise.

On the other hand, we can’t use the door because Butchie The Wonder-Mutt flopped its dead carcass right down in front of the door.

Which leads to our second problem. When Steve first described this structure, I have to admit I (and the rest of the guys) thought he was describing a glorified tent. When I hear “skin stretched over bone”, that sounds flimsy. I figured we could cut a hole into the “fabric” and let ourselves in fairly easily. And the artwork on the map didn’t particularly discourage that; it looked like a big circus tent. Albeit one with rather macabre aesthetics.

But if you think about it, “skin stretched over bone” equally applies to something dense like the structure of a ribcage, and – at the risk of turning this a little ghoulish and serial killer-y – you can’t just cut your way through that with a pocket knife. What you CAN apparently do is cut just enough of a hole for the people inside to start shooting at you. Which they do.

So now we have a choice between Stubborn and Go With The Flow. I get that using our best grenades (and a fairly expensive resource to boot) for wall demolition isn’t exactly ideal, but neither is 20 rounds of hacking away at a wall under constant fire, hoping the other guys miss a lot or run out of ammo. The Flow is saying “blow up the damn wall and get in there”.

(Note that “The Flow” sometimes gets a little close to metagaming, which one likes to avoid. The Flow is that voice in your ear whispering “that’s why the previous enemy dropped grenades in the first place”. It can be a tough needle to thread, separating the path that’s easiest to take from the path the person who wrote the adventure “wants” you to take. Then again, they probably wanted us to kill the Big Boi a little further away from the door. “Just Sayin’” as the Young People say.

We do have the rare good idea of being sneaky and blowing the wall on the other side from where we were originally hacking, to try and restore a little surprise. Actually, it seems to have been cut, but we briefly discussed trying to coordinate explosions on both sides simultaneously, but I believe we decided we wanted to make sure we poked one hole large enough to get us in rather than waste our grenades on two smaller blasts that might still require further effort to clear.

So we’re in the room, and this is one of those fights where I was quite content to hang back… even more so than usual. The big problem was the amount of damage CHDRR had taken in the previous fight – I did heal him some, but he was still probably about 1/3rd health where one or two solid shots (or a crit) could’ve taken him out. As I’ve said before, noble sacrifice at just the right moment is baked into drone rules; getting killed stupidly is not. This isn’t as dire as Castrovel because we’re still near a population center – we could theoretically return to Trux’s office and lay low for a day while I fix him, but no need to be dumb about it. So CHRR and I sit back and take our shots from a distance.

Standing in front of Bob, of course. I seem to have a knack for moving right into other people’s shooting lines.

I have to admit I thought this fight would be tougher. The marrowblight just looks tough – lots of pointy bits – and the flow of the adventure felt like it was driving toward this as the big bad. But I don’t know if Mo’s armor is just that good, or Steve was rolling poorly, but I never felt like we were in all that much danger. Does that mean we still have another fight yet to come? Or is it just a “those are the breaks” fight where it went a little better than expected? Or maybe even large pointy humanoids are a cakewalk after fighting giant alien livestock.

The last thing I wanted to touch on is Steve’s discussion about the Rule of Cool. Overall, I’m a fan. I think we get so enamored of the system that we sometimes forget that this is a framework for storytelling as well, and the best stories don’t always fit the system. It’s kind of an interpretation of the improv “Yes, and…” mindset.

However, I do have a few cautionary points.

The first is that I think the players should be the ones INITIATING the “off-roading” from a rules perspective. If the GM decides to do it, it runs the risk of rendering the entire rule framework arbitrary; if the players choose to instigate it, it becomes more of a collaborative thing. I think the GM then decides the success or failure conditions, but let the players come up with the idea. “I am asking you to let me do this weird thing; what odds can you give me?”.

The other caveat is that it’s vulnerable to exploitation by a me-first showboat player. In the wrong hands, the Rule of Cool is an invitation for one player to dominate the game. Some of it is the personalities of the players; some of it is the match between the skills of the characters and the situations they find themselves in. In a melee-focused game, Tuttle doesn’t have the same options in combat that Mo or Hirogi does. If it’s heavy on social encounters, Rusty might be the only one who can really take advantage. I think if the GM is going to allow Rule of Cool gaming, he or she needs to make sure everyone gets an opportunity to be… well… cool, or push back a little if one person is hogging the spotlight.

But with those cautions in mind, indulge! Do fun things! Otherwise, you’re missing the point of roleplaying games, and Yahtzee has much simpler rules.

Well, that’s about all I have for this week. Next week, with combat in the rear-view mirror, hopefully, we can get back to unraveling mysteries and figuring out where the Corpse Fleet (and the cultists) have disappeared to. We’ll see you then – in the meantime, feel free to drop by Discord and join in the reindeer games.

By which I do not mean a Starfinder game with a crew of sentient reindeer-people. Though, that might be cool, depending on whether antlers could be used to equip extra items. Hmmm… let me see if I can get a Rule of Cool ruling on that…

Dead Suns 066: Hey Dupinski!

Welcome back everyone, and welcome to 2019! After a much-needed vacation, the RFC crew is back and ready to track down those pesky cultists!

And what better way to start off 2019 than with more the same! More “how are they still alive?” combat encounters! More endless horrible rolls! More pop culture references! It’s like 2018 never left!

Also this week, Stephen talks about “The Rule of Cool” and how to apply it to your game.

And don’t forget to become a supporter of the podcast our Patreon page: where you can help us while unlocking fun exclusive rewards for yourself!

If you enjoyed this episode, don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast. We would also love it if you would leave us a review on iTunes!